What it takes to host a large hybrid meeting

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A recent McKinsey survey suggests that 90% of organizations will embrace a combination of remote and on-site working as they exit Covid restrictions. This new model will bring about a radical change in the way we meet – a hybrid mix of in-person and remote meeting participants seems an inevitable part of our ‘new normal’.

There is simply no return to the world of “scream boxes” on the conference room table, with those on the phone struggling to hear, “we talk to them” when they try to speak. , or guessing what’s on that PowerPoint slide on a screen only their colleagues in the room can see.

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said, “We want to make sure that those who join remotely are always first class participants. “

But hybrid meetings are much more complex than face-to-face or virtual meetings. They are easy to do wrong and difficult to do well – remote participants are one step away from losing that first class status. Just as executives learned how to host great virtual meetings over the past year, so now they need to learn how to host great hybrid meetings.

With over half a century of experience designing and hosting meetings for leadership teams and boards, we’ve rounded up eight best practices to help you make your hybrid meetings more effective:

1. Improve your audio game.

While remote participants need to see who is speaking and what is going on in the meeting room, quality audio is actually more critical. Yet while much attention is paid to the visual aspects of meetings, audio is often overlooked until the last minute. Before Covid, you would often hear participants from a distance say, “I’m sorry, can you get a little closer to the speaker and repeat what you just said?” Now they expect to hear everything clearly, as they can on Zoom.

To avoid last-minute interference caused by poor sound quality, make sure the room has enough high-quality microphones for remote participants to hear. If you’re in a hotel or other temporary meeting space and multiple microphones aren’t a viable option, consider supplementing your audio input by having attendees in person pass a hand-held microphone before speaking.

2. Explore a technological boost.

The pandemic has accelerated the use and evolution of video conferencing technology to enable virtual meetings from computers, tablets and phones. As vendors invest heavily to better enable hybrid meetings, new features are being introduced to improve face-to-face communication between in-person and remote participants.

For example, Zoom’s Smart Gallery (slated for completion this year) uses artificial intelligence to detect individual faces in a shared room and display them in panes on the screen so remote participants can see them. in the now familiar gallery view. Microsoft is developing new types of meeting rooms optimized for the hybrid experience. You need to research what technology upgrades might be available to help make your team’s experience more immersive and authentic.

3. Look at the video from the perspective of the distant participant.

As you design the meeting, continually ask yourself: What do remote participants need to see to fully engage? They should be able to see the faces of participants in the room, presentations shared, physical documents handed out, content created during the meeting on whiteboards or flip charts, etc.

It’s tempting to just ask attendees in person to open their laptops and join a Zoom meeting (muted), so remote attendees can see each other’s faces and documents can be easily shared. Customers frequently suggest this type of “virtual room meeting”. However, if the people in the room are spending the meeting on their computers, they might as well have stayed at home or in the office. The people who meet in person are – at least for now – so excited to finally be together again. The last thing you want is for them to squat on their individual laptops all day for the sake of remote participants.

Especially in cases where advanced video technology is unaffordable or unavailable, a little ingenuity can go a long way in creating a high quality video experience for everyone.

For example, for a two-day offsite at a Florida hotel with 10 in-person attendees and two remote attendees (one in Zurich and one in Los Angeles), we connected three webcams to laptops and used a fourth computer. laptop to share what was happening on the main screen (usually a PowerPoint). We mounted two of the webcams on tripods, which faced the participants in the room so that the distant participants could see who was speaking. We moved the third camera to show a close-up view of presenters, flip charts, and wall charts throughout the session as needed. The four laptops joined the two used by our two remote executives for a total of six separate Zoom “participants” in the same Zoom meeting.

Feedback after the meeting confirmed that this setup made remote participants feel like part of the meeting rather than distant observers.

4. Make remote participants full size.

Another way to give distant participants equal stature is to give them a greater presence in the room. In addition to the main screen in the center, set up two additional large screens, one on either side of the room, displaying “life-size” panes of remote participants throughout the meeting.

We find these large images help in-person participants accept distant colleagues as full participants and constantly remind them to include them in the conversation. Likewise, if possible, the voices of distant participants should emanate from the same monitors as their faces – overhead speakers tend to reinforce the artificiality of the situation.

5. Test the technology in advance.

Nothing kills the momentum of a meeting like waiting to resolve an issue in the audio or video. Before an important meeting, test the AV setup, both in the room and for remote participants. Schedule a 10-15 minute one-on-one trial to make remote participants feel comfortable with what they will see and hear during the meeting, as well as go over any software features they are likely to be invited to use. . It is well worth the short time required.

6. Design meetings for all participants.

Go over each activity or exercise with a specific focus on how remote participants will engage. Consider what tools and techniques, digital or otherwise, can be used to maximize their interaction with the participants in the room.

For example, if you need to interview the group, use a telephone survey tool like Poll Everywhere to collect everyone’s comments in real time. This puts participants on an equal footing at a distance, versus a show of hands or verbal feedback. To capture meeting notes, use an online whiteboard (or focus a remote camera on a flip chart) so everyone can see what’s being written as they go.

Likewise, if the meeting design requires participants in the room to put dots or post-its on a wall chart, use a webcam to allow remote participants to read their peers’ responses before placing their own. as they could if they were physically present.

If the meeting design requires grouping people into small groups, the easiest solution is to include all remote participants in a single group. Although simpler, it sends them the wrong message by reinforcing their physical absence. It is probably worth the extra logistical and technical effort to integrate remote participants into multiple focus groups to enhance their equal status.

7. Provide strong facilitation.

Managing a hybrid meeting is more difficult than when the whole group is in person or on Zoom together. Someone – a staff member, stranger, or meeting participant – should be assigned to lead the conversation and keep it on track.

No matter how much effort you can put into meeting design and logistics, it’s still far too easy for in-person attendees to dominate the discussion. A facilitator should attract participants from a distance, keep them engaged, and make sure their voices are heard, not interrupted or discussed. Sometimes the facilitator may need to call in room or remote participants to make sure all voices are heard.

8. Give each remote participant an “avatar” in the room.

There may be times when remote participants need a physical presence in the room. It can be as simple as a blocked camera view. Perhaps a microphone is not working or a participant needs to be reminded to speak. A post-it note may need to be placed on a wall chart or a poker chip placed on a table as part of a resource allocation exercise.

For these situations, each remote attendee should have what we call an “in-room avatar”: a staff member (or other attendee) who can be their physical presence in the meeting room as needed. Whether by SMS, chat or phone, they have a private communication line available at all times throughout the meeting. Remote participants tell us that having confidential access to a single point of contact goes a long way in eliminating feelings of isolation or distance from the people in the room itself. How embarrassing is it to have a distant participant asking “Fred, can you please speak.” I can’t hear you ”every time Fred speaks? It’s much better to have another person approach Fred during a break and quietly remind him “Fred.” Please speak louder. It’s really hard for Natasha to hear from you from Zurich.

As the pandemic abates and we resume our in-person gatherings, hybrid meetings will become a permanent part of how organizations operate. These meetings bring additional complexity at the same time that our collective year of meeting led by Covid has virtually raised expectations for remote participation. Fortunately, by leveraging technology and tools, being thoughtful in meeting design, and providing strong facilitation, we can create hybrid meetings where all participants – whether in the room or outside. of the ocean – feel engaged, valued and equal.


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